Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke gingerly stepped back into the controversy over a new redistricting plan yesterday, asking the Baltimore City Council to delay a vote as he tried to be "a healer."
But his message did not move a defiant Council President Mary Pat Clarke: "With all due respect," Mrs. Clarke shouted at a mayoral emissary standing on the council floor, "no."
Once again yesterday, the council assembled to try to vote on a redistricting plan for next fall's city elections. And once again, there was shouting and impatience.
But this time, there was more: A councilman went so far as to criticize the mayor -- which Mr. Schmoke angrily took as a challenge to his commitment to his race. And the council president made clear she does not want the mayor mucking around in council business.
"We will sit here all night," Mrs. Clarke said from the president's ornately carved chair. "I announced this meeting. I am not going to be delayed."
But there was no final vote. The council will tackle the plan, proposed Monday by Councilman Carl Stokes, D-2nd, again today at two meetings scheduled for noon and 3 p.m. The two separate sessions would allow the council under its procedures to both amend and take a final vote on the redistricting plan today; however, it would not give the public much opportunity to see and comment to their councilmen on the final plan before it is passed and sent to the mayor.
"To keep this thing going, we must act," Mrs. Clarke said. "We want to make him [Mr. Schmoke] part of this. We need to come along together. But this is our job. We've got some hard work to do."
The redistricting plan proposed by Mr. Stokes would create five majority-black districts and leave only one -- the 1st -- majority white.
In giving preliminary approval to the Stokes plan at a fractious meeting Monday night, the council split largely along racial lines and rejected the more conservative map that Mayor Schmoke had sent to the council in January.
Since the controversial Stokes plan was introduced, the haggling over boundary lines and arguing over voting power has continued unabated. In Annapolis, senators and delegates from the 3rd and 6th districts -- which stand to lose politically powerful neighborhoods -- have joined council members and community leaders in fighting for changes in the proposal.
Mayor Schmoke, who said he was on the phone past midnight Wednesday listening to complaints about the Stokes plan, decided late yesterday morning to seek a delay. "I was trying to encourage individuals to talk," Mr. Schmoke said yesterday afternoon. "I was trying to serve as a healer."
But he did not have any suggestions to offer the council, nor did he prepare any amendments that might serve as a starting point for debate.
On the floor of the council, several members viewed his re-entry into the controversy as an unwelcome effort to cross from the executive branch of government into the legislative.
Mrs. Clarke was obviously offended by the suggestion of Peter N. Marudas, the mayor's council liaison, that the body consider honoring the mayor's request to delay a vote.
"Peter," she snapped, as council members caucused, "he's had 18 months to put the plan together, and now he ain't going to do anything."
And Councilman Lawrence A. Bell, D-4th, dismissed the mayor's request as poor politics.
"This thing has been delayed and delayed," he said. "We as a people have gotten to the point where we're not going to turn back any more. We've said no, no, no. We've come too far, and we're not going back any more."
An uncharacteristically angry Mr. Schmoke responded: "All I know is Lawrence Bell is getting on my case again, and frankly, I'm tired of it . . . and what I think is the young man is spouting a lot of nonsensical rhetoric." The mayor characterized Mr. Bell's remarks as being similar to the rhetoric of the late '60s when people jockeyed to prove "who's blacker."
"If Lawrence Bell thinks I don't have a commitment to AfricanAmericans, then the young man is just misled and misguided."
Earlier, deals were still being negotiated as far away as Annapolis.
State Sen. John A. Pica Jr., who represents Northeast Baltimore, said he and Delegate Curtis S. Anderson had agreed on a compromise: The 3rd District councilmanic ticket this summer will include its first black candidate, and in return, Homeland and most of the neighborhoods in the Harford Road-Belair Road corridor would remain in the district.
"We've got a deal," Mr. Pica said happily from his desk on the floor of the Maryland Senate. "Our councilmen will vote for the plan. They don't even know it yet. I've got to find them."
But by 5 p.m., as the council returned to try again to vote on amendments, the deal had fallen apart -- reportedly because the 3rd District representatives did not think the compromise went far enough.
"They [the 3rd District representatives] want Homeland and all of Harbel, and we can't give them all of Harbel," said Councilman Stokes. "They have to give up something."
However, rushing out of the door to a fund-raiser, Mr. Stokes said with confidence, "This coalition is still strong, and we've proven we have power and we can hold the group together. Not one of us has wavered."